Andy McDonald MP, Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Employment Rights and Protections, has said “Labour is committed to repealing anti-trade union laws”. This is a welcome commitment; we urge Andy and the Labour Party to go further, and state concretely what this commitment means.
Even under Jeremy Corbyn and even at the high point, policy-wise, of the 2019 manifesto, the Labour leadership’s stance on repealing the anti-union laws and promoting the right to strike remained unclear and inadequate. (See here for what we said in some detail at the time.) There is no reason to thinking that the Starmer leadership will do better without a lot more pressure.
Here are some of the issues:
• At the moment the party’s official announcements say nothing about the anti-union laws or about the right to strike. A tweet from a Shadow Cabinet member and an article on LabourList are no substitute for the whole leadership arguing for this vocally. Again, it is worth noting that even Corbyn’s leadership was reticent to talk about the anti-union laws (except the 2016 Trade Union Act) and even more reticent to talk about, let alone enthusiastically champion, the right to strike. We need clarity and we need vocal and active campaigning.
• “Repeal anti-trade union laws”? Which ones? There were nine in place before Tony Blair came to office in 1997 (for a list and review of them, see here; for a summary of their impact here). The 2016 Trade Union Act added another storey to an already very tall building.
• Under Labour’s plans, will workers be any more restricted in their rights to strike, picket, etc., than they were before 1979, when anti-strike laws were imposed by Thatcher? If so, in what ways? And why?
• Will workers still have to go through slow, carefully regulated balloting procedures? What is wrong with – among other possible methods – simply meeting together and voting to strike, as was possible before the 1980s? Why shouldn’t workers decide themselves how they want to take decisions about industrial action?
• Will 1980s restrictions on picketing, in terms of numbers and which workplaces can be picketed, remain?
• Will the ban on striking in solidarity with other workers remain? (Note that before Thatcher workers could strike in solidarity with any other workers, not just those separate from but connected to them in some degree.)
• Will the ban on striking over wider social and political issues than just industrial disputes remain?
The labour movement should push for clarity on these questions. It should demand they are answered in line with the clear policies passed at Labour Party conference and TUC Congress (see here) for repeal of all anti-union laws and their replacement with strong positive rights, including to strike and picket.